Remember, in April this year, Google was beta testing native ad formats for AdSense? Four months later, Google launched native ads on DFP ad server, this time with demand for AdSense and DoubleClick Ad Exchange publishers.

In this post, we’re going to cover how the new native ad format in DFP works and all the ways it can enrich your ad inventory.

What is DFP Native?

When you are delivering a banner, you receive a complete creative asset from the advertiser and you deliver it exactly as you received them from the advertiser.

In the case of DFP native ads, instead of getting a rigid banner that is completely unresponsive towards the content environment that it is placed in, what you will receive is separate components. It’s up to you to organize these components in a way that represents advertiser interests and also blends in well with your website or app.

Right there is a level of unprecedented control for publishers. You take a single set of assets, and you’re able to modify those according to the different screens and different type of content layouts that they’re being shown on.

When done correctly, native enables better, more effective ad experiences for users, advertisers, and for publishers.

According to Jessica O’Brien, product specialist for DFP native offering in APAC:

Many of the most important properties (on the web) are only running native ads today. Snapchat, for instance, which has and probably always will run only native ads. We’re seeing a lot of our most forward thinking publishing partners embrace native ads as part or all of their solution.

There are three main ingredients in a DFP native ad:

  • Formats: These are predefined by the system and determine placement location. Currently available formats are in-feed and article (in-content).
  • Assets: Also called ‘elements’ or ‘components’ within the context of DFP native ads, they are made out of HTML and cannot be edited (directly) by the publisher. You receive them from the advertiser, but they don’t contain any information about how and where they should be placed.For instance, if you receive a headline, you only receive the text of the headline—it won’t tell you what font or color it should run in.There are some display components that you’re sure to receive by exchange rules (text – headline, body, CTA, and advertiser, and a large primary image file). Then there are some assets which (some) advertisers would send and prefer to be in display for brand purpose (logo image).

    Note that some brand-conscious advertisers may not buy inventory if their brand logo or name isn’t going to be on display in the style specified for it. You don’t have to display all the assets (only headline is mandatory). You will have to define how they look with styles.

  • Styles: Styles define how your specified (or ‘targeted’ as they call it) inventory segments will look in web (desktop and mobile) and app environments. You can compare them to WordPress themes. Publisher defines which elements to show or hide, how the elements are to be arranged (image left or top, for instance), ad size (fixed or fluid), and customize the general ‘look and feel’ of the ad through colors and typeface. DFP offers a total of 22 preset templates, divided among ad sizes:

You can also create your own “exchange-eligible styles made out of custom CSS” from scratch, or pick a fluid template (no ad size):

Responsive (fluid) native ad templates with landscape and square sized images.

Validating that CSS according to exchange rules may prove tricky, so edit the presets as needed and move up gradually from there.

The component based approach lets you customize, experiment, and even open new inventory with unique placements.

Layout Best Practices

The whole point of native is to make ads look and feel like they are a part of the content experience (without disguising them as content). Attribution (ad badge and AdChoices labels) applies on all native ads transacted programmatically. However, unlike AdSense, DFP Native allows you to make slight modifications to ad badge.

You can download Google’s Native Playbook for advice on how to customize your in-feed units (which require more customization than in-article units) for better UX.

Here’s the compressed list of recommendations:

  • Grid alignment: Avoid misaligning your in-feed ads by making sure the marketing image aspect ratio and dimensions match that of featured images in content units. Match image width for vertical feeds and height for carousel feeds. Native display images can have an aspect ratio of 1.91:1 (landscape) or 1:1 (square). DFP automatically determines the image size by choosing the closest image aspect ratio that matches the size you set in the CSS.
  • Font size and typeface: Use the same font size for text elements as you do in your content. If you can’t find the same font, look up the font family and pick one with the closest weight.
  • Character length:  Ads that are too dense become a usability problem, while too much blank space could make it look out of place. Take a look at your character maximums for content units and try to match it in the native ad.
  • Element and font hierarchy: Put the elements in prominence as intended. The large primary image will get precedence, followed by a square logo (if/when sent by the advertiser) should appear next to advertiser name or CTA. Fonts and their sizes should work similarly.
  • Preserve advertiser assets: DFP automatically selects the correct aspect ratio (between landscape and square) of primary images in fluid ads. Make sure you don’t stretch or distort the images.
  • Include at least one branded asset: Some brand advertisers may not buy inventory if your targeted style won’t let them promote their brand. Put one or more branded elements (advertiser name or logo image) in the layout, and never modify, distort, or obscure these.

You can target (and test) multiple styles for same inventory segment. Style performance can be tracked by using ‘Native Style’ as a query tool dimension in DFP. Make sure to experiment with styles to find those that perform best on your website or app.

DFP also has a built-in A/B testing feature, so make sure to use that and see which layouts perform best.

Performance Optimization

DFP native ads can be transacted via different programmatic deal types. There are some key differences, as listed on this DFP help page. The freedom of transacting inventory in multiple ways gives publishers plenty of scope to maximize their earnings.

In an auction environment, set floor prices based on your needs. Maximize fill rate with low or no floor price, or get better CPMs with a high floor price.

You can drive incremental performance by adding DFP native capability to your existing display banner ad units. This will allow different demand sources for native and banner compete, and whichever gets the highest CPM will be served. This also allows you to test the waters with native format and demand.

For dedicated native ad units, in-feed formats can be great, they will provide a better, more cohesive experience for users as they scroll through your feed. You can expect increased demand from advertisers focused on branding. According to Jessica O’Brien:

A lot of our branding advertisers who were looking to start transacting on native are interesting in buying these native-first, native-dedicated ad slots.

You can go a mile further by making DFP native ads contextually relevant for users using key-value targeting.

Native ads are currently available to all DoubleClick publishers (including DFP Small Business) for web and app display inventory. Demand comes from DoubleClick Bid Manager, AdWords, and AdX (for registered publishers only). Google is also testing programmatic native for video and plans to roll it out by Q4 2017.